13 Investigates: Legal for boss to ask for your social media password

13 Investigates: Legal for boss to ask for your social media password story image

STATEWIDE (WGME) - A CBS 13 investigation finds your employer has the legal right in Maine to ask you for your password to your personal social media and email accounts. The password protection debate is putting privacy advocates and the business community at odds.

When you tell Facebook "What's on your mind", there's no law stopping employers from demanding access to that post, even your inbox messages and pictures.

But Representative Mike McClellan (R-Raymond) wants to change that, saying people are entitled to their private lives.

"From my intent, if it's your own personal Facebook page, you own it and employer doesn't have the right to that password," Rep. McClellan told us.

He sponsored a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring or requesting usernames and account passwords for personal social media and email accounts.

"Things are getting complicated. The speed of technology, which always changes, is going faster and faster," McClellan said.

Lawmakers are reviewing the bill and hearing concerns from privacy advocates but also business leaders who say in some cases, employers need employee login information. Peter Gore with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill during a public hearing.

"We saw it as a possible impediment to conducting effective and adequate workplace investigations around things like sexual harassment, or bullying in the workplace," Gore said.

Our research found in the past 2 years, a dozen states have passed password protection laws to stop employers from asking for passwords to personal accounts in order to get or keep a job. Legislation has been introduced in at least 25 other states this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Peter Herzog is an attorney with a focus on labor and employment law. He says most Maine employers would never ask workers for passwords.

"A lot of them recognize there are potential problems and serious risks if you ask employees or applicants to provide this information," Herzog explained.

For example, an employer could come across protected information like religious and political beliefs, which would increase the chance of a lawsuit.

"In most cases there's not a compelling reason. It's just not a good idea, even if the law's not there, for an employer to ask for this information," Herzog said.

Another part of the bill would also stop school administrators from asking students for account login information. The bill in Augusta is on hold for now. Lawmakers have ordered a study to take a closer look at what changing the law would mean. There's also been talk in Washington of passing a federal privacy-protection law.

13 Investigates: Legal for boss to ask for your social media password
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